Garden with Grace

"I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some." ~H.Rappaport

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Dig, Shake, Stir: From Garden to Bar

One of my favorite things about gardening is to find creative uses for harvested items, especially the herbs. Over the years, I’ve dried herbs to create interesting crafts with everlasting flowers such as lavender.  However, a favorite way to save and savor some favorites from the garden involve cocktail infusions.

When I have an abundance of  hot peppers at the end of each summer, I buy a bottle of plain vodka. Something like Smirnoff works well (though I do have a friend who chastises me, insisting I should only use top shelf spirits – – let’s just say that we agree to disagree!). I toss in a few spicy peppers that have been partially cut to the new bottle of  vodka and within a week, it becomes a spicy ingredient for a fantastic Bloody Mary! And as the Pepper Vodka ages, it gets even hotter — so I simply top the bottle off from time to time with more plain vodka. It’s seems like an endless bottle by mid winter. By the next summer, I’m really to start all over again.

In years past, my neighbor usually had so many peaches and plums that he resorted to begging his friends to take them from him – or he secretly delivered them to our homes, whether we wanted them or not! With his harvests, I’ve infused the peaches and plums in brandy.

Other experiments included pears infused in brandy and rhubarb infused in vodka. (Those were never made again, but were worth trying. In the end, it was a waste of good pears and rhubarb that could have been better used in a baked item where they would be enjoyed more.)


This year, I tried two new infusions.  Blackberry Brandy and Lemongrass Vodka.

My friend Bobbi lives at the NH seacoast and is a fellow gardener. I love that her garden has a blackberry and blueberry patch, along with some pear and apple trees (and a pony named Sachi!)  At the end of last summer, I paid her a visit and returned home with armfuls of peaches, pears, blueberries, and blackberries. The peaches, pears and blueberries were saved for eating. But, the blackberries were picked with the intent to make a batch of Blackberry Brandy for the 2017 holiday season.

Blackberry Brandy is very easy to prepare. I simply took a large (sterilized) glass jar, added the blackberries (about 1.5 c) and a few tablespoons sugar (since the berries were more tart than sweet this year), lightly muddled the ingredients and then poured a bottle of E&J Brandy over the mixture. I let it sit in my cool, dark basement for 8 weeks, and stirred the dark, thick contents of the bottle weekly. Then I strained it through cheesecloth and bottled it. I’m pleased with the results, but will add more blackberries if I try this again next year.


The surprise creation of the summer was the Lemongrass Vodka. I’ve grown lemongrass in the garden on and off for the past 20 years. Lemongrass plants are sometimes hard to find, so I simply get a stalk of lemongrass from the grocery store in the spring, put it in water, let it root and plant it in the garden in early summer (sometimes in a container, sometimes in the ground.) It makes a beautiful filler plant and sparks good conversation when friends wander through the garden and realize that it’s very fragrant.

I browsed online for ways to create an infusion and all suggested cutting up the inner parts of the lemongrass stalk – some suggested chopping it in a food processor, but I just hand cut it. The stalks on my lemongrass were cut a few weeks before I did this project, which make them smaller, drier, and less pliable.  You can see in the photo on the left, the lemon grass just sitting in the jar of freshly poured vodka.  Within two weeks, the spirit took on a beautiful golden hue.

My Lemongrass Vodka has an herbaceous fragrance and taste with just a light citrus background note. I’ve tried a few cocktails with the infusion, including using the spirit in a straight up dry martini with hint of vermouth. I’ve also tried it with a bit of Lillet instead of vermouth. Both options were good. Most recently, I mixed equal parts of Sake and Lemongrass Vodka and served it very cold.  That was also nice — and a little lighter as far as the hit of alcohol from a straight vodka cocktail.


I ended up with enough Lemongrass Vodka to fill two small bottles – one for my bar and one for a friend who appreciates unique cocktails as much as I do. He and his wife are on a kick now making a lot of Asian cuisine, including Ramen dishes. I’m looking forward to hear how they create an Lemongrass cocktail to pair well with their newfound culinary experiments!

As I look ahead to planning my 2018 garden in the coming months, I hope to find new items to grow to bring to the bar. Perhaps this will even be the year to create an official Cocktail Garden! (Afterall, it would be an ideal setting for the perfect party!)

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When the Garden Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon Drop Cocktails!

At the start of this year, I shared the story about the pink lemon tree acquired in October 2013.

We’ve waited for months for the first lemon to be ready to pick (almost a full year, actually), only to see hundreds of tiny lemons, barely the size of peas, fall to the ground during 3-4 growth cycles. While that may seem discouraging to some people, this plant has been enjoyed even without fruit for months, indoors and out.  Its tiny white and purple flowers are extremely fragrant, as is the beautiful, shiny, variegated foliage. When it isn’t indoors filling the garden room with lemon perfume, it’s outdoors bringing delight to the honeybees.

By late May, the pink lemon tree was moved from the garden room indoors to the back patio where it enjoyed outdoor living for 3 full months.  However, with the temperatures expected to drop into the 40’s (F) in New Hampshire tonight, it is time to bring this beauty indoors during the overnight hours

But, before that happens, we needed to pick a lemon. Today, the first lemon was harvested! The pink lemon variety never really turns completely yellow – it’s a creamy yellow color with green stripes. The fruit size is small, more like a lime or golf ball.


A lot of thought went into what to do with this lemon – we really wanted to be able to taste its lemony flavor, but with only one lemon, there’d be hardly enough juice for even a thimble-full of lemonade.  The truth is that I didn’t care what the end offering would be, I just wanted to cut open the fruit to see its pink flesh.  It looked a little more salmon color than bright pink – and was beautiful.


When you grow your own lemons, you enjoy fruit that is not covered in wax because it was shipped to your market from thousands of miles away.  Instead, the outside of the lemon rendered a big spray of oil when it was cut and then squeezed.

Thankfully, if you have vodka in the house, you can skip the lemonade and go right for a lemon cocktail.  I did a quick search online to find a recipe that only needed a few ingredients and Ina Garten offered the solution. Her recipe for a Lemon Drop cocktail was perfect – I simply cut the ingredient portions in half for my one, lonely lemon.

Voila! The most delicious Lemon Drop Cocktail that took nearly a year to make!

IMG_4917Cheers! And, here’s to the remaining 4 lemons that should be ready in as many weeks. If you have suggestions on how I should plan to use them, let me know via a comment!


Gorgeous, glowing garden sunset…

The weather in NH was perfect today. It ended with an evening on the back patio.
It was magical to watch the male, ruby-throated hummingbird visit every 3 – 4 minutes between 8 and 8:30pm ET.

Successful Hummingbird Watch in the garden tonight!

Successful Hummingbird Watch in the garden tonight!

It was even more magical to see a gorgeous sunset that made the garden glow tonite.

Our gorgeous, glowing garden sunset.

Our gorgeous, glowing garden sunset.

All accompanied by a garden inspired cocktail – based on a Vesper Martini. Here’s my recipe (for each cocktail!)
2.5 oz Effen Cucumber Vodka
1.0 oz Tangueray Rangpur Gin
0.5 oz Lillet Blanc
Stir with ice for 2-3 minutes. Pour over freshly sliced, cold cucumbers (preferrably from your own garden or local farm) and enjoy!

Garden Cucumber Vesper Cocktail

Garden Cucumber Vesper Cocktail